Regan Williams (left) and Elizabeth Wells work together last week to create video games using the programming language Scratch. During a three-day coding camp at Jefferson Telecom that served to expose rural girls to technology careers, girls learned to code in multiple languages. ANNIE MEHL | JEFFERSON HERALDAlisterra Novy, 12, works on designing and building a website during a three-day girls coding camp in Jefferson organized by Linc Kroeger, of Pillar Technology. ANNIE MEHL | JEFFERSON HERALD

‘People who think that girls can’t do certain things are stupid’


For The Jefferson Herald

Inside the room, loud tapping could be heard as girls rapidly moved their fingers across their keyboards.

They shifted their chairs a little closer together in order to peek over each other’s screens as they worked side by side to create something entirely new — something that was entirely their own.

For three days last week, about 16 girls in eighth through 12th grades attended a free coding camp for girls organized by Pillar Technology’s Linc Kroeger, the leader of the company’s rural development. 

From 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day at Jefferson Telecom, the girls learned programming languages Python, JavaScript, Hypertext Markup Language and Scratch. They also listened to female speakers who either work as computer scientists or have had their careers altered by technology.

This is the first year Kroeger has organized something like this. The No. 1 priority of the class was to expose young women to the possibilities of computer science and let them know it exists, he said.

“We knew that only 6 percent of Jefferson’s code club is female, and that was our top priority,” he said. “There are software developers running around Jefferson, and there are probably not many women role models to see, so how do we bring in women technologists so they get to experience what coding is like (and) actually get to do it?”

Pillar Technology’s software branch on the northeast side of the Square in Jefferson has set a grand opening date of Sept. 7, with public tours that day from 4 to 7 p.m. 

The branch — called the Forge — is expected to employ up to 40 people with starting salaries of $65,000.

As part of the grand opening,  parent/student sessions on technology careers will be held at 4 and 5 p.m. at the Sierra Community Theatre.

On their last day of class last week, the girls listened to Calla Yu, an international broadcaster for Voice of America, who shared her personal story of how her life was impacted by technology.

An exchange student from China, Yu relied on technology to connect with both family and friends back home as well as people at her high school in Massachusetts.

“I just shared my experience of being an exchange student at an American high school and how communicating with people helped my career development,” she said.

Clarissa Jawaid, a mobile developer at John Deere in Des Moines, volunteered her time to work with the girls as well.

It was an eye-opening day, Jawaid said. 

So many of the girls in the class had never heard of coding before or didn’t know there were careers in computer science.

“A lot of girls wouldn’t have even thought of this being something they can do in the future,” she said. “The fact that they now know it even exists — that’s starting somewhere.”

Originally from Miami, Jawaid moved to Des Moines when she started working at John Deere. It’s not just the big cities on the coasts that are looking to employ people in software or tech fields, she said — something she wanted to emphasize to the girls.

Not only could women code, they could do it anywhere — even Jefferson.

“All of these companies in the Midwest are hungry for employees, and (people) don’t realize it, because they are stuck in the mindset of big cities,” she said.

During the class, Alisterra Novy, 12, of Luther, clicked away at her keyboard, working diligently to build and perfect a new website.

Before attending the class, Novy knew a little bit about Javascipt and HTML, but she said the class expanded her coding knowledge.

“It’s really fun,” she said. “It’s amazing how much you can do with what looks like gibberish. When you look at it closer, it’s way cooler than that.”

One day, Novy would like to be a web designer or even a video game creator, she said. Everything that she learned during the class made her excited about the possibilities of the future. Even though computer science remains a heavily male-dominated profession, that’s not the way it has to be, Novy said.

“People who think that girls can’t do certain things are stupid,” she said. “Girls can do anything that guys can — sometimes even better. Like the saying, ‘Anything you can do, I can do better.’ ”

Lisa Garnett, a family and consumer science teacher at Greene County Middle School, said the entire experience was wonderful. She can’t wait to bring more of her female students back next year.

“This is not something that has been typically taught,” she said. ”When they introduced HTML and Javascript, most middle school students knew it, but the high school students had never done it. It’s been a phenomenal opportunity, and we would like to do something like this in the future, too.”

Kroeger said he expects to do the girls code camp next year and even expand it to other areas.

“It’s pretty clear from watching these women over the past three days that there is going to be a lot of interest in the technology career field that people just didn’t know existed, from Carroll to Jefferson to Boone to Perry,” he said. “It’s not something people considered, but it’s really clear from the responses that there is interest.”

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